As an incoming freshman, my concept of what college life was like was pretty limited. College tours only told you so much as they focused primarily on the layout of the campus, majors and minors, classes, dining hall tips, etc. My first year and a half at school was a strange time in my life, because I didn’t know what to do first. I ended up taking a leave of absence to figure out what I wanted to do and came back once I had a better idea. Now that I’m in my senior year, I can’t help but find myself wishing I had known what I know now. College opens so many doors to help you grow as both a student and an independent adult. Taking time off was great for me, but it’s not for everyone. So here’s a list of things I wish I’d known prior to coming to college:
1. Transition time: You are now independent! Take advantage of it, but know your limits! This is the first time in your life that you’re truly on your own. You make your own friends, decide what classes you want, what clubs you want to be part of, and you get a glimpse of what it’s like to live on your own. For some, this can be overwhelming and seem like too much responsibility. This is true, but the key in feeling comfortable within your own independence is to remind yourself that this is your life! You can make the decisions. Whether they’re major or minor decisions, you get to choose how you navigate your life. You’re getting to know yourself on a completely new level. I didn’t really understand what that meant until recently and I wish I had spent more time figuring out how I function and what works best for me.
2. Have a plan, but also explore: I was obsessed with doing well in school, but that didn’t work well for me because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought I had to have a plan in mind (because it seemed like every other Freshman around me already had that planned out) and that was a major stressor for me. You may already have an idea of what you want to do, but being at school provides so many different opportunities. Explore your school! Any college offers a variety of courses that you probably never considered taking. Take those courses to get another perspective. You may discover a talent you never knew you had and you get to meet students that you may not normally see in your standard classes. You may also end up hating it, but that’s all part of trying new things out!
3. Sign up for clubs and go to a few meetings: My first experience at the activities Fair was pretty much your standard freshman experience. I was signing up for everything possible, but I wasn’t actually going to any of the meetings and events. I regret not going to those meetings because I could have met a lot of awesome people and formed friendships that lasted a lifetime. Go to the meetings a couple times to see if it’s for you, and if not, at least you know you tried! Another way of navigating around this is write down the clubs that you signed up for, figure out what might be most interesting to you and do some research (i.e. look it up their group Facebook) and see if you want to try it out. This is also the perfect time to try that one thing you’ve always wanted to do, but never felt confident enough to try it out. No one knows you yet, so take the risk!
4. Raise your hand, you won’t be put on trial: Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty smart. Despite my supreme intelligence, it wasn’t until last year that I started raising my hand and speaking in class. Why? Because I thought I had nothing to contribute to the class. Fast forward to today and I am now well-known throughout my classes for being the person that “knows everything”. Of course I don’t know everything, but I take the chances when offered to speak up in class and have a say in the discussion. When asking a question, I know that someone else in the class has the same concern. I also know that if I answer a question, there’s a 50/50 chance that I’m wrong. More often than not I am, but that doesn’t stop me. Again you may ask, why? People will notice you, and that’s not always a bad thing. Because I have chosen to have a voice in class, I have a great support system of professors who understand how I think, what I need in class and are always willing to meet with me or help me out with an assignment because they know I’m interested. Forming these connections will help you a lot further down the road, especially when you need help getting a job. Professors that know you will be more than happy to write you a reference letter, especially if they know you, so raise that hand!
5. Be proud of yourself: I’ve often found myself with a great grade for an assignment, but for some reason I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t because of the grade, it was because I was comparing myself to everyone else in the class. Here’s the thing: You worked hard and this grade proves it. Enjoy it because sooner (rather than later) you will find yourself with another tough assignment that is going to take away all happiness in life and you’ll find yourself wishing you’d enjoyed your prior successes.
6. Sex and Alcohol Education: I remember having to take an alcohol awareness test prior to coming to school. Do I remember anything from it? No. Will you? Probably not. Sex and alcohol is a huge part of college life. Even if you don’t drink or have sex, it’s still important to know as much as you can to stay safe and be aware. Pay attention in your wellness classes, see what resources are available to you and make sure you know how to take care of yourself. Thousands of students come into college without having had an appropriate health course in high school. Even if your college doesn’t offer a great course in health, take the time to understand where you are and what happens. Prevent yourself from becoming a statistic.
7. College happens only once: I’m a special case in that I kind of had two different college experiences, but that’s not the same for everyone. I’ve said this before and I will say it again and again: Take advantage of everything! Literally everything. Even library resources. Tuition helps pay for certain perks, so take advantage of it before it’s gone. One swipe all-access pass in the dining hall is a treasure, so again, take advantage of it and hang out there (free food all day). It’s also a great place to study.
I’m sure there are a million other things that I could mention, but it’s mid-terms and I can only come up with so many. The key point here is that college happens once, and it’s an amazing time in your life. Don’t let your fears or worries get in the way of having an amazing experience. Learn about what your school has to offer! Try out for the ultimate frisbee team (even if you suck)! Be the person that you want to be and more. Being in school can help you accomplish that!